California voters approved the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation (Proposition 13) in 1978. To this date, Proposition 13 stands as one of the most important advances in the history of American tax reform. The initiative, which decreased property taxes by assessing homes at their 1975 value, allowed thousands of families to stay in their homes; the skyrocketing property taxes would have forced many Californians (particularly working-class families and seniors on a fixed income) to move. Proposition 13 was (and is) so popular among California residents that many politicians consider it a “third rail” – changing or weakening it seems virtually unthinkable.
Yet, there is a group thinking about changing Prop 13: a labor-union-backed organization called Make It Fair. Using scare tactics and us-against-them rhetoric to garner support, Make It Fair contends that loopholes in Proposition 13 allow a small number of “giant corporations” and “wealthy commercial property owners” to get around paying the property taxes that they could easily afford. In reality, though, the “loopholes” that Make It Fair seeks to close are in place to protect residential and commercial real-estate owners at all places on the economic ladder. Their desired legislation (Senate Constitutional Amendment 5), which stalled in Sacramento, would create a steep tax increase for many property owners. That notion is unacceptable. Proposition 13 keeps small business owners’ doors open, even when the economy presents a variety of struggles – and it’s been providing this security for nearly 40 years.